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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Not-So-Obvious Signs Your Communication Skills Might Need Work

As humans, we often default to the path of least resistance—for just about everything we do. Unfortunately, if you opt for that with your communication skills—assuming they’re as good as they’re going to get—you risk holding yourself back in your career. Not only does it prevent you from being a better co-worker, but it also might stop your chances of showing your boss that you’re a leader, a leader who happens to deserve a promotion.

The good news is that it’s never too late to improve those skills! But before you can improve them, you have to know where you’re going wrong. If any of these sound familiar, you know where to start.

1. You Rely on One Type of Communication

You reply to almost every email within an hour, you know when to use an emoji and when it’s better to be formal, and you’d never hit “reply all” to a mass email. That’s great—inbox mastery is important in the workplace—and it looks like you’ve got it down.

However, if you use email (or phone or chat of face-to-face) exclusively, you’re failing to strengthen your other communication skills, ones you’ll need sooner or later. For example, you can’t manage people solely through email, and even if you’re not aiming for a leadership position, you’ll still need practice articulating your point of view in person: either at meetings or when convincing your boss to take a project in a different direction.

Whichever form of communication you naturally default to probably doesn’t need to be worked on as you’ve most likely devoted enough hours to it to check the “mastered” box. Now’s the time to choose a neglected method and hone the skills necessary to clearly articulate via this medium. Whether it’s direction on the next steps for a team project, or your notes on the new marketing plan, it’s useful to be able to discuss it in more than one way.

2. Your Co-workers Constantly Ask for Clarification

When a co-worker says, “Just want to make sure we’re on the same page,” that’s a key indication your words aren’t as crystal clear as you think. Maybe you hear that phrase after explaining the next steps to a detailed team project you’re working on, and despite your best intentions, you find yourself repeating exactly what you thought you just said, and then answering a slew of follow-up questions.

Frustration’s common at this point, but if you let yourself place blame on the listener for not understanding rather than examine your effectiveness as a communicator, you’re missing an opportunity for growth (and improvement!).

To help connect the message you’re trying to send with what’s coming out of your mouth, try jotting down the key takeaway of an important conversation before initiating it.

Once your main point is crystallized in your mind, go ahead and have that discussion, but leave room for questions and really try to listen (rather than waiting for your turn to talk) to what’s asked. By being present and receptive to feedback, you’ll start to understand when you’re clear, and when you need to be more specific or add a key detail.

3. You Take a Backseat at Meetings

This one might surprise you because you probably have more than one reason why you don’t speak up in front of the group—from fear of public speaking to a boss who will nitpick any input to preferring to listen before you contribute.

But when you regularly take a backseat role, you’re missing essential opportunities to communicate to your co-workers just how much value you could add to the group. You may have great ideas in private, but that doesn’t help your team during the group brainstorming session, where those ideas could be discussed and improved upon with collective input.

No one’s saying that you have to speak up at every single meeting, but if you’re looking to play a larger role in group decisions that impact your job, you may want to consider chiming in with a well-placed comment or question.

While nobody’s a perfect communicator, and nobody expects you to be, learning a few ways to improve your own shortfalls will help improve your relationships at work. Whether it’s smoothing out an email misunderstanding, voicing your idea at the team meeting, or even just giving an assignment that’s understood without any added clarification, your efforts will be rewarded with a little less complication in your workday.

Photo of person talking courtesy of Caiaimage/Tom Merton/Getty Images.